Around 4:55 EST my alarm went off – the plan was to wake at 5:00, pack all our bags into the car, load the two rental kayaks onto the roof, grab some coffee from McDonalds and hit the road by 5:30. The drive from Lydenville up to Newport was about 35 miles. The scenery was beautiful – rolling lush hills with endless trees, filled with sparse fog. My phone received a message from a weird number… “Welcome to Canada! You may call the US for X amount of money and use data at the rate of $15/MB!”… I switched to airplane mode immediately. While we were obviously still in Vermont, AT&T decidedly thought we were in Quebec; however, at the turning point in Lake Memphremagog I was within a mile of the border!
After arriving at Prouty Beach in Newport, VT, Evan and Nate unloaded the kayaks onto the beach in the designated area. We parked the car, walked back to registration, drank more coffee, applied sunscreen and some zinc, organized the nutrition and hydration bag for my “yacker” (Evan) and waited for the pre-race meeting to start at 7:30. Nate competed in the 3 mile swim with his Mom, Elizebeth, as his yacker – he did great too!
All yackers were to be in their boats by 7:45 and heading out past the first turn buoy where they would meet up with the swimmers. If you’ve ever seen one of these starts, you know how chaotic it is to find your swimmer/kayaker while everyone is franticly swimming around in the middle of a lake, now that I have a couple races under my belt I know a really great way to identify yourself is to use this “zinka” colored zinc to mark yourself in a unique way so it is easier for support crew to identify and spot you. Of course it’s a good idea to know what your kayaker is wearing, what color their boat is, what your number is, etc. I made a black, orange, and pink strip on my left arm – Evan was able to spot me very quickly without any problems.
At 8:00 the ten mile non-wetsuit wave (my wave), the ten mile wetsuit wave, and the “assisted” wave for the ten mile race started. I had a weird start, not sure why but once the gun went off I ran into the water with everyone else, but did a funky dive thing straight into the water right when I thought it was deep enough to do so. My goggles filled up with water – they’re open water specific goggles that blueseventy makes and are not meant to be used for diving – I was trying to get out in front of the main pack so I swam for about 15 minutes with water in my goggles. Silly me!
After rounding the first buoy I started my search for Evan – the idea was that the lower numbers were supposed to be at the front (closest to the buoy) and the higher numbers were supposed to be farther back from the buoy. I was number 2. I couldn’t find Even so I kept swimming, and swimming, and finally found him close to the back – apparently he missed that part of the meeting! It was ok, he saw me straight away and began to kayak towards me.
I focused on holding my pace back. One thing I learned from the SAKW was that I felt GREAT the first hour – go figure – but after that began to hurt (in more ways than one…). So I knew that being out front was an amazing and comfortable feeling, but being passed by dozens of swimmers still going strong after hours of swimming wasn’t… so I began to figure out how to pace a marathon swim. I focused on keeping my breathing under control – going back to breathing every 4th stroke and spotting every 8th stroke helped me do this. After the initial 15 minutes of a fast free-for all most of the competitors had settled on a steady pace. I wanted to hold this pace for the first half of the race, then depending on how I felt I would make a decision on the pace I would hold for the last half of the race.
After 35 minutes of steady swimming I stopped to get a drink of Gatorade. I kept swimming for another 25 minutes, stopped again for another chug of Gatorade and a bite-size snickers bar. The nutrition for this race was much less planned than it was for Key West. Which actually worked much better, although I wish I had a couple things while swimming, the cravings passed and I survived. I decided to listen to my body and give it things I would normally eat or drink, whatever I felt I wanted or needed I would take.
I felt great at an hour in, but kept reminding myself I had a lot of swimming left to do. I held my pace, but if I was gaining on someone I would pass them quickly then fall back into my pace. Another 30 minutes went by – more Gatorade and a bite of snickers. I was in 5th place overall at this point, I was very close to the two guys right in front of me. I swam another 40 minutes or so, I passed them both while they were stopped for a feeding – I used this opportunity to postpone one of my feedings to gain a little distance between me and them before stopping again.
I had Water and another snickers at around the 2:15 mark – I was craving some applesauce but didn’t have any with me. The snickers were like little energy bites! I was also having some left shoulder pain, which I had also experienced in Key West. I took two advil and tried breathing to the right side which only made it worse – I asked Evan to stay on my left for the remainder of the swim.
The next 45 minutes were by far the most challenging of the race. We had experienced some decent chop while crossing the lake, we had also been warned of the westerly winds that would most likely blow us off course. The yackers were advised to line the buoy up with a landmark behind them to help stay on course. The problem was that between buoy 6 and buoy 7 (I believe those are the numbers) there was about a 2.5 mile gap! The gap spanned an incredibly open and choppy area that made it impossible to line up any buoy, let alone see the next buoy. I stopped and asked Evan if he had a sighting on it… “no”. I was trying to focus on my swimming and keeping my strokes long and smooth, but had to switch to my “choppy stroke” which means I had to swim with completely straight arms and lift my head almost all the way out of the water in order to move anywhere. I also noticed we were being pushed substantially by the winds. I asked Evan to steer me into the winds and towards the general area we believed the buoy to be.
Mentally, I felt myself losing motivation. My shoulders were killing me, I kept getting a side ache from the weird stroke I was using to swim and I was too far behind the first two men to catch them, and was a comfortable distance in front of the two guys I had recently passed. I found myself settling back into my opening pace, whereas just 20 minutes prior had been increasing my speed and feeling very strong. This was discouraging and I knew it was because I had no visual on my next buoy. I really wanted to find it soon. We kept pushing into the winds, swimming almost diagonally to where we were trying to go. Evan got a bloody nose around here, this was distracting him and me. He seemed to be struggling a little in the dinky kayak we had rented – every time he had to stop paddling it floated off course and he would have to paddle quickly to catch back up to me. The winds had picked up more, the clouds were rolling in – I could feel us both on the brink of controlled panic – we needed to get a sight on the next buoy, quickly.
Right as the 3 hour mark rolled around we both got a spot on the tiny red bobbing buoy through the waves. I couldn’t see it every time I looked, but I had been relying on Evan to get me to the next buoy so I settled into a nice, slightly stronger and re-energized pace. The waves were still choppy, I felt very thankful for the seasickness medication around this time…
I rounded the ominous buoy and immediately spotted the next one (yay!). I began to inch towards it. The clouds had passed and the winds began to die down substantially. I began to feel hot for the first time all morning. It had been almost a perfect temperature for fast swimming – the water temp was roughly 70F and the air temp was about the same, but steadily rose throughout the race. I experienced a few cool patches while heading out on the course, but thankfully those were only patches and I didn’t experience anything like that while heading back towards the finish. I checked my watch after rounding the 2nd to last buoy – 3:30 minutes had passed since I started. I felt great, the advil had kicked in, I was starting to feel a little hungry, but knew it wouldn’t effect me while I was still swimming. I decided to have one more snickers and a large chug of Gatorade to give me a final push for the finish. I could see the final turn buoy at this point and knew the beach was just around the next corner. I put my head down and swam at a strong, steady pace.
I asked Evan to warn me if any of the swimmers I had passed earlier started gaining ground on me. I felt very settled in my current standing. This was a nice feeling to have as I rounded the final buoy – I felt strong, I was very close to my predicted time, I had very few aches/pains to worry about, and nothing had gone awry during the swim! I swam into the beach, stood when the water was shallow enough, and ran into shore across the finish line – 4:05 was my official time, first place female and third place overall finisher.
After finishing my SAKW last month, someone told me, “Now all the rest of them will feel easy!” this has proved true at least for this swim! I gained valuable experience, as always, but felt very confident and controlled in how I swam this race. Marathon pacing is quite a different and new experience for me, it may take time to learn how to swim all the different distances I will be racing, but I am excited and ready for the challenge.
As I recovered after my race (eating just about anything I could fit into my mouth), a few spectators came up to congratulate me – I handed out a few of my FARA donation cards, a couple people even handed me a cash donation on the spot! This experience has allowed me to explore my love for swimming and take it with me to places I never expected… it has given me the opportunity to combine my love of the sport with my love of my family and with both of those things bring something absolutely worthwhile and wonderful from them. I hope to turn these into lifelong passions and share them with as many people as I can.
Thanks for reading and THANK YOU for the continued support!
p.s. My strange Vermont prizes included: a pound of beef jerky, a half gallon of pure maple syrup and a hand carved wooden “woodel” made by a community member.